Light rail and housing affordability

Image Source: Enterprise Community Partners

Last night, Sound Transit presented its draft Sound Transit 3 plan to a packed house at Everett Station. The “ST3” plan includes transit improvements that would be funded through a ballot measure this November, including a light rail connection from Lynnwood to Everett.

While the Lynnwood extension funded through ST2 is scheduled to open in 2023, the extension from Lynnwood to Everett will not open until 2041 under the draft plan, prioritized behind connections from Ballard and West Seattle to Downtown Seattle. At last night’s open house, many local residents and elected officials voiced the need to accelerate this timeline, and prioritize the regional “spine” from Everett to Tacoma. There are several proposals in the works to improve the timeline by as much as 10 years, depending on different options to reach Paine Field. An initiative called “Light Rail to Everett” has also come out of the Economic Alliance of Snohomish County to advance this effort.  You have until Friday, April 29th to comment on the draft plan before it is finalized in June!

Our growing region faces transit shortfalls nearly everywhere, and a great challenge in prioritizing future investments. In weighing these considerations, the relationship between transportation costs and housing affordability cannot be forgotten, particularly as it affects low income households.  While housing costs in Snohomish County tend to be lower than in King County, this is offset by higher commuting costs for many Snohomish residents. According to HUD’s Location Affordability Index, a family earning 50% of the area median in King County could expect to devote 26% of their income to transportation, while a family with the same income in Snohomish County could expect to spend 30% of their income on transportation. As traffic and transportation challenges continue to deepen over the years before light rail  and other transportation improvements are complete, we can expect these costs to rise.

More resources related to Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) are available in the planning guide.

Senator Cantwell Launches Campaign to Expand Federal Housing Funding

Last week, Senator Cantwell announced a national campaign to expand funding for the federal Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program. The proposed 50% increase would finance an estimated 35,000 affordable units in Washington State over the next decade, around 4,200 more units than would be possible under the status quo.

The LIHTC program is divided between noncompetitive “4%” tax credits and competitive “9%” tax credits. Both have the same funding mechanism, though the competitive “9%” level provides double the equity for housing projects, thus making it more feasible to serve households with incomes below 50% AMI, where Snohomish County’s greatest need is concentrated. The proposed increases would apply to the competitive program, and are sorely needed. Senator Cantwell’s office has also prepared a report on why this increase is needed, including an overview of what changes are being proposed.

February 2016 Joint Board Meeting

Last Wednesday, we had great attendance at our first joint board meeting of 2016 and first meeting at HASCO’s Jackson House property, an affordable rental property for seniors in Everett. The agenda included welcoming new officers and joint board representatives, a discussion of Snohomish County’s proposed housing policy changes, and a discussion of barriers to the use of 9% Low Income Housing Tax Credits in our county. For all the details, read on: Continue reading February 2016 Joint Board Meeting

Legislative Session Update

We are now more than midway through the 2016 Legislative Session, and there are a few important housing issues making progress.

First, the bill that would establish an additional option for a multifamily tax exemption (MFTE) for housing preservation has passed the Senate! This option would not change the existing MFTE option for new construction, but would add a second tool that would work in a similar fashion. In this case, owners of existing housing would receive a property tax exemption in exchange for keeping a portion of their units at affordable rent levels. While jurisdictions can go further in their own application as desired, the legislation would require a minimum of 25% of units preserved at rent levels affordable to households earning no more than 50% area median income. (Those considered “very low income” and lower) The property must meet all code requirements at time of application (and on an ongoing basis), with a three year grace period for properties to be rehabilitated. Its companion bill, HB 2544, has gone on to the House.

Updates on this session’s other potential housing legislation, including the Housing Trust Fund, prohibiting source of income discrimination, tenant screening reforms, and more can be found on the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance Blog.


New content in the planning guide

In recent months, there has been a growing discussion in our region around how to address homelessness. We hope that, moving forward, the Alliance for Housing Affordability can serve as a venue for jurisdictions to collaborate on meeting this challenge. To that end, the section of the Housing Planning Guide on “Expanding Assisted Housing Supply” now includes addressing homelessness, plus a new page dedicated to the “Housing First” approach. Expect more to come soon.

Everett Low-Barrier Housing Forum

On February 1st, the City of Everett held a community forum to follow up the November event featuring Lloyd Pendleton. The forum, which can be viewed here, featured experienced housing practitioners from around the state who operate successful low-barrier housing developments. These developments house homeless individuals with significant barriers to traditional housing options – typically multiple mental health diagnoses, perhaps criminal history, and more. These practitioners identify the individuals with the greatest needs, and place them in stable housing. Individuals are provided with the services they need to move forward in their lives, but compliance is not mandatory. They will not be asked to stop drinking completely, for example, but will be asked to stop drinking just enough to comply with minimal obligations. From that point, the pieces typically start to come together, with better success and less negative community impact than if they were still homeless. The discussion from the event was especially useful for those less familiar with low-barrier housing, as the practitioners discussed a lot of common community concerns with these housing projects and dispelled a number of common misconceptions about the chronic homeless population. Expect much more on these topics over the coming weeks on our blog!

How can we fund more housing vouchers?

The HUD Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program is a major source of housing assistance for households with the lowest incomes in Snohomish County. It’s an excellent tool, as the vouchers can be used in any unit that accepts the vouchers and meets rent and safety standards, theoretically promoting mixed-income neighborhoods and providing deep assistance more affordably than through traditional public housing models. At the same time, this flexibility also limits the program’s use, as landlords will be less likely to accept vouchers in a tight market, and finding an acceptable unit that meets set rent standards can also be a challenge. In
addition, the program is limited by federal funding, so the supply of vouchers does not come close to the demand. In Snohomish County, there are currently 6,183 vouchers in use, compared to around 68,000 households earning less than 50% Area Median Income. (This is the line where it typically starts to become more possible to find an affordable rental unit in Snohomish County)

The program is essentially a lottery at present, with years-long wait lists, if a housing authority’s wait list is even open at all. Contrast this with the SNAP program (AKA food stamps), an entitlement-type program, where all who earn less than a certain income level can receive assistance. Could we do this with housing assistance as well? A post over at City Commentary makes an interesting case as to how it could be possible. For a summary, read on. Continue reading How can we fund more housing vouchers?

Lloyd Pendleton and Housing First

As part of its Streets Initiative, the City of Everett is hosting a series of community housing forums. The first, back in November, featured a presentation by Lloyd Pendleton. Mr. Pendleton was a leader in writing and implementing the State of Utah’s plan to end chronic homelessness, with fantastic success through a “housing first” model. I’m posting now as it has come to my attention that the presentation has been posted on YouTube, here, and I would encourage everyone to view it. Not only has this been a highly successful program with many practical lessons to observe, Mr. Pendleton is an engaging, inspiring speaker. More information on his work can be found on Everett’s site.

The next Community Housing Forum will take place on February 1st, with a continued conversation on local successes in housing first models. More information available here.

Vancouver’s Laneway Homes

Laneway homes in Vancouver (Source: Citiscope)

Many cities in this region have goals to provide a greater variety of housing, but struggle to spur development of new housing types. An article on Citiscope profiles how Vancouver, BC has found some success with “laneway homes”, a variation on the familiar ADU typology – small housing units, typically built behind existing single family homes and, in the Vancouver twist, oriented to alleys.

In the six years they have been allowed, more than 2,000 applications for laneway units have been submitted, and around 85% of those have been built. Vancouver’s affordability challenges are so acute that demand for these homes could be seen to be a given in any circumstance, but, as outlined in the article, the City has been actively engaged in facilitating their success. For more detail on how this has been accomplished, click below:

Continue reading Vancouver’s Laneway Homes

August Joint Board Meeting

SNOAHG_082615One of the Alliance’s chief goals is to create a venue where a variety of jurisdictions can come to together to learn from each others’ experiences. Last week’s joint board meeting demonstrated the opportunity we have created, with experience flowing within and between AHA’s member jurisdictions and the affordable housing provider community.

Continue reading August Joint Board Meeting